Each week, London Strategy Unit's Matt Boffey reads one of the most influential books from the world of innovation, marketing or creativity so you don't have to. In today's Booknote, he tells us whether the positive thinking lessons from Dale Carnegie's 1936 title How to Win Friends and Influence People still hold true today.
Despite being released during the depths of the Great Depression, How to Win Friends and Influence People gave rise to the Positive Thinking movement and single-handedly created the self-help genre.
Carnegie offers a series of guidelines for human interactions that seem obvious but are often sorely lacking when it comes to dealing with people in business. At the end of each chapter he distills each of his guidelines into snackable one-liners such as “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”
What’s the original thought or argument?
That when it comes to human relationships, there should be no distinction between the social world and the corporate world. Positive personality traits such as honesty and affability, Carnegie argues, are the keys to success in business – even more so than skills. The reason that being a nice guy is so crucial in business according to Carnegie, is because all humans are subconsciously motivated by the desire to feel appreciated - a theme that runs throughout the book.
If you want to look smart, just read
Part Two, where Carnegie outlines a range of micro-interactions that lead people to feel that you’re genuinely interested in them. Though none of the techniques are particularly revelatory, they’re a refreshing alternative to the climate of fear that overshadows so many offices. It’s hard to overestimate the positive influence of a tiny microinteraction like remembering someone’s name; Theodore Roosevelt consistently employed microinteractions as a way of making voters feel important, a strategy that helped him secure the presidency.
You might want to skip
Carnegie’s ‘Seven Rules for a Happier Home Life’ included at the end of the book. Unlike the rest of How to Win Friends and Influence People, these closing tips to husbands and wives have not aged well. “Do you have an intelligent grasp of your husband’s business so you can discuss it with him helpfully?” is one such clanger.
Why trust this author?
Carnegie’s book lead draws heavily from his experiences as a public speaking coach. He trained over 150,000 students in public speaking through a course of his own creation that is still offered by thousands of institutions today. The enduring popularity of his courses is matched by the consistent sales of How to Win Friends and Influence People which is still one of the most-bought business help books.
Once you’ve read this you don’t need to read
Books like Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal that subscribe to the idea that ruthlessness is the way to get ahead in business. How to Win Friends and Influence People principles offers a reassuring alternative to Trump’s characterisation of successful businesspeople being wiley and bullish.
Why should this stay on your bookshelf?
Because the kinds of interactions that colleagues have with each other determines an organisation’s culture. Having How to Win Friends and Influence People on your bookshelf is a reminder that cultures aren’t created by corporate initiatives, it’s up to us as individuals to do our bit to create a positive culture.
What’s the one thing you should do differently after reading this book?
Block out half an hour at the end of your week to go back through your diary and reflect on your week’s engagements. For each meeting, scribble a couple of notes on what you could have done differently to achieve a more productive result. Over time, you’ll find yourself making fewer of those mistakes that might have been holding you back on a regular basis.
Best quote in the whole book?
“This is the day of dramatization. Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, dramatic. You have to use showmanship. The movies do it. Television does it. And you will have to do it if you want attention.”
Matt Boffey is the founder of London Strategy Unit, which you can follow on Twitter @LSUsocial